The people of Morpeth had held meetings as early as 1870 to debate the need for a bridge across the Hunter River providing a connection to the agricultural lands of Hinton from the busy inland dock of Morpeth.
Continual canvassing by the local community led to the first tender being submitted and debate over designs and finance delayed production until 1896 when the first supporting cylinder was laid. Because iron and steel were expensive imports, the timber truss bridge design by Percy Allen (1861-1930) was used. It was constructed from local hardwoods that were much stronger than traditionally used imported pines.
The bridge is a two lane, three span structure supported by cylindrical cast iron piers and is the oldest of only three remaining overhead braced timber truss road bridges in service in NSW. Its three main truss spans are each 33.6 metres long and each of the 16 timber girder approaches is 10.7 metres long.Records indicate that construction workers such as a Charles Crocker worked approximately 3,595 hours over a 21 month period for a wage of around £232.The beginning of works was attended by dignitaries and was just as ceremonial as the formal opening of the bridge.
The official opening on Wednesday 15th of June 1898 was attended by 800 schoolchildren and 1,500 other spectators who witnessed the new structure declared open by the Minister for Works, Mr J.H. Young, and Mayoress Mrs R Sim.
While Morpeth Bridge provided an important link between the farms and the town, it also had the effect of reducing the use of Morpeth as an inland port as cargo was too big for the riverboats to carry under the bridge. So the deeper water of Newcastle became preferable for river trade.
June 1998 saw the centenary of the Morpeth Bridge and this impressive structure was celebrated with a range of re-enactments including a bridge walk of around 100 children, street parade and ‘opening’ ceremony. Descendants of the town officials and bridge builders were present and the Minister for Public Works, Mr Ron Dyer performed the cutting of the ribbon.
From 1998 there were concerns for the longevity and safety of the bridge.
It wasn’t until 2010, when a large rehabilitation project designed to save the historic bridge was carried out over a period of seven months, the work being completed in 2011.The timber approach spans, deck planks, kerb and handrail were removed and replaced for a total investment of around $17 million – a huge contrast to the £8000 that was originally spent on its construction.
Morpeth Bridge over the Hunter River has proven of great value in the local community as an enduring connection between Morpeth and Hinton and, being the oldest surviving example of an Allan Truss Road Bridge still in service, is of heritage significance.